On draft day in 2011, a countdown clock started as the Cleveland Indians selected their shortstop of the future. On that day, the Tribe made the slick-fielding, high school phenom Francisco Lindor the eighth overall pick of the amateur draft.
Questions were few about talent. That part was obvious. The biggest questions were about when Lindor would be finished with minor league seasoning and playing in the big leagues. Those questions were answered over the weekend when the 21-year-old was called up to the Majors.
Needing to fix the shortstop position, the Tribe turned to its best player in its farm system and one of the top prospects in all the sport. Now, instead of being one of the youngest players at the Triple-A level, Lindor is one of the youngest in Major League Baseball.
The Indians may not have wanted to call their hopeful future star to the big leagues quite yet, as the organization has handled him with kid gloves. However, the choices were becoming limited. Jose Ramirez, also an infield prospect, just could not be left in the every day lineup of a ball club with serious hopes of playoff contention this season. After Ramirez showed great promise over the final two months of 2014, the wheels fell off in this year’s first two months.
Ramirez was sent down to Columbus, leaving Mike Aviles and Zach Walters as the Tribe’s lone options at short. Both are quality players, though neither is a true every day player. Lindor, who had struggled with minor injuries and a slump to start this season, was getting hot at the plate in Columbus, while continuing to play at nearly an Omar Vizquel level in the field. With other teams calling up A-one prospects, the time was simply right to call Lindor to the big show.
In his first two games with the Indians, surely a small sample size, Lindor has wasted little time in showing the baseball world why Clevelanders have pined for him ever since his second half promotion to Columbus in 2014.
On Sunday, a game Lindor was not going to start, the Tribe prospect entered after a lengthy rain delay against the Detroit Tigers. In his second career at bat, Lindor got his first career hit.
On Tuesday night, Frankie – as Indians manager Terry Francona calls him – got his first start in Wrigley Field. He had two hits in five at bats, while collecting his first stolen base. He scored a run. In his first two games, Lindor has not disappointed. He has been all over the place.
While he has not had the mega start akin to the historic first game of Rangers rookie Joey Gallo, Lindor has shown why those around the game are high on him.
Lindor is not a power hitter and, barring a massive overhaul to his game, never will be. The Indians are high on what Lindor brings to the table in terms of hitting for average, stealing bases and fielding.
Cleveland’s future at shortstop and potential future all-star is sure threat to hit .300 and steal 30 or more bases in a season. Offensively, that would be a huge boost. The Tribe could use a pure leadoff hitter with Michael Bourn having been stripped of his once blazing speed due to multiple hamstring injuries to both legs. while Jason Kipnis has put up great numbers in the leadoff spot since the start of May, he seems to be a more natural No. 2 hitter. Of course, he and Lindor could trade off in the one and two holes of the batting order.
Defensively, Lindor was billed as being Major League ready on draft day. A tough position to field, Lindor has made his share of errors. However, he makes plays that most players can not. He will cut down on the errors. He had eight when he was called up the Majors this year.
Tribe fans oohed and ahhed for more than a decade as Vizquel made one highlight reel play after another. Lindor may not get quite to that level, but can be close. He has the potential of having a better stick than the former Indians great.
It is certainly too soon to make judgements about Lindor. However, one of baseball’s top 10 prospects, has come up the bigs with a good start to his Major League career. That is all anyone can ask for. He should be in Cleveland for the long haul, too.
Unlike some players who yo-yo between the minors and majors, teams do not tend to do that with their brightest young stars. A club does not want to risk messing with the head of a player that a lot of hopes are pinned on. Lindor would really have to stink up the joint to have a ticket back to Columbus.
Lindor is going to get a good, long look on a team that has played closer to playoff-caliber baseball since the end of a disastrous April. Perhaps Lindor can be a big piece toward aiding a sometimes dormant offense. He can also plug some much-needed energy into the field.
The time was finally right to make Lindor a member of the Cleveland Indians. So far, he is helping to prove it was the right time with the way the first couple games have gone. Now, he needs to turn that success of a couple games into success over a couple half decades or more.
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